UPDATE added at bottom, 5/10/2016.
Second UPDATE added at bottom, 6/16/2016.
Here’s a question!
“John, have you anything to say about the new restrictions on parts of the lake? I know your site is mostly about the Parker area but this affects us boaters a lot. The effect on tourism will be terrible. Thanks for all that you do.”
Thanks for the question, CB, which joins several others we’ve gotten on the subject this week alone. And man, are people getting upset!
The United States Fish & Wildlife Service (USFW) is proposing changes to boating regulations on the part of Lake Havasu it manages, the Havasu National Wildlife Refuge. Mostly, people are concerned about the impact of the proposals prohibiting wakeboarding, skiing, tubing and personal watercraft.
First, let’s tell the story of what the Refuge is for, and why it exists. When Parker Dam was built, it turned the narrower, naturally-flowing Colorado River into the artificially-bloated reservoir called Lake Havasu. After the lake was created, President Franklin Delanor Roosevelt created the Refuge to protect some areas of waterway so that it would continue to resemble its more natural state, with habitat for fish and wildlife and birds and native species of plants and that kind of thing. “If we don’t do this,” FDR told Congress at the time, “future generations will hate me forever and piss on my grave and burn paintings of me every March.” (That’s a quote.*)
Thirty years later, the London Bridge was erected on the shore of Lake Havasu by an eccentric chainsaw hustler, and the city started to blossom (do cities blossom?). By that time, the lake had become a haven for tourism and performance boats and water-skiing and bikinis and all the other things that make the river so much fun. Lots of us were attracted to the river lifestyle and started visiting and moving here. During that time, the Refuge allowed these river rats to do their thing, to a largish extent, with boating restrictions in some of the more sensitive areas.
Now, USFW is proposing new restrictions on more sections of the waterway, and the river rats are pretty mad. Local leaders have alleged that the service is engaged in bureaucratic overreach, and argue that it may be acting outside its authority. Senator John McCain has asked USFW to justify its actions and to hold off until it hears public comment. Stakeholders in local tourism-related fields worry publicly that the regulations will take away some of the fun of the lake and therefore harm the economy here.
To be honest, CB, they (and you) have a very good point. After all, the many miles of public waterway here on the Colorado River are a primary reason people love the area, and why they spend millions to come here for weekends, or for months or years at a time. All of those dollars are important dollars, economically.
But to be honest, it runs deeper than economic concerns. The real reason this gets people angry is because it seems to strike at our way of life. Right, CB? That’s the basic concern. Wakeboarding, skiing, tubing and personal watercraft are not small parts of the lifestyle, and the Refuge is not a small part of the lake. Even just getting around on the water north of Lake Havasu City takes a little speed, unless you want to spend all day just trying to get where you’re going. This is… a lifestyle hit.
And so, while I think everybody understands the need for some no-wake zones (Topock Gorge is a great example), especially in areas that were set aside for wildlife habitats long before most of us were alive (the backwaters and marshes at the Refuge are good examples), the ordinary mainstream activities of Lake Havasu and its typical uses by the people and the local economy are important too.
Do we need habitats for migratory birds, endangered fish, and weird critters of many shapes, sizes and smells? I believe so, yes. We have a kind of selfish habit of not caring about things that don’t directly benefit us. But some of these poor suckers are nearly extinct and I don’t think we should be the generation that puts the final nail in their little fishy coffins. If I have to slow my boat down in a few places to keep the little goobers alive, I wouldn’t mind doing it. Besides, I don’t want my great grandkids pissing on my grave, either. (I’m with FDR on that one.)
But USFW should take the concerns of those of us on the other side of the balance seriously, and listen to the many people who are showing up at their meetings to express them.
Balance. That’s a good word, isn’t it? There’s an increasing polarization happening in American politics these days, where people are encouraged to be on the outside extremes of important issues, and never to engage with them in a nuanced way. That’s how we end up with people calling each other ‘stupid’ in presidential elections instead of figuring out how to tackle the issues in an adult way.
The truth is, CB, there’s a balance to be had here. For whatever it’s worth, I think the waterway running through the southern portion of the Refuge (which, from what I can tell, is the most hotly contested stretch) could be opened up in the way it was for many years in a compromise to the larger needs of the area without destroying the most crucial habitats. By USFW’s own estimates, large numbers of actual human beings use the area as well as wildlife, which should count for a lot. And the Refuge could stay on its important mission by keeping tighter restrictions in some other areas, along with heavy protections in the backwaters and marshes and deserts it controls.
Is that too simplistic? Or is it a sensible approach? Let us know in the comments below.
The next public hearing is on Monday, May 2nd from 6-8pm at the Aquatic Center at 100 Park Avenue in Lake Havasu City. It ought to be a doozy. If you feel importantly about this issue one way or the other, you should go. But remember what we learned here!: those on the other side aren’t idiots. They just care more about different things. Like CB and FDR.
(I wonder would FDR have been a wakeboarder if he were alive today?)
To read the complete 11-page proposal, go HERE.
* This quote may or may not be made up.
UPDATE 5/10/2016: A 30-day extension has been added for public comments on the proposals for the Refuge. It’s widely seen as a concession by USFW on the issue.
UPDATE 6/16/2016: The USFW has withdrawn its proposals after the public comments period closed on June 13th. More information HERE.